By Kerry Patton, SUA Kitchen Cabinet and Staff Member
In biblical times, Noah sent the Raven in harm’s way to observe the flood. The Raven flew back and forth until the flood waters dried. The Raven served as a protector and intelligence collector selflessly risking its life ensuring the safety of Noah and his Arc. Today’s incorporation of the U.S. Air Force’s Phoenix Raven is quite similar and the program just surpassed a major milestone.
Oftentimes, the United States engages in military operations other than war. These operations can be austere in nature simply due to the geopolitical environment where these missions are executed. The Raven ventures on these operations and executes the mission protecting U.S. assets and collecting invaluable information—both tasks can be more than life threatening.
Phoenix Ravens have participated in Hurricane Katrina operations, tsunami and earthquake disaster relief, augmentation of U.S. Federal Air Marshalls, and immediately after the horrific terrorist attacks on 9-11, Ravens swiftly responded to the call for action. They are some of our nation’s best and brightest. Today, they deserve recognition for their operations and breaching a milestone of graduating its 2,000th member.
The United States Phoenix Raven is not the military’s baddest of the bad. No, they are not Navy SEAL’s, Delta Force, Army Special Forces, etc. They are an anti-terrorism/force protection asset. And when it comes to securing some of our nation’s most prized possessions, they are the best.
The Phoenix Raven program, while not construed as a “Special Operations Force,” comprises a force of extremely specialized warfighters. As a program, the USS Cole Commission recognized the Phoenix Raven Program as the best “anti-terrorism program.” In 1999, the program earned honors as DoD’s “Most Outstanding Antiterrorism Innovation or Action.” Some of its members have even earned recognition through the “Air Force’s Outstanding Intelligence Contributor Award.”
These awards are deserving and worthy. Today’s recognition is more about the award of surpassing a milestone that very few ever imagined. On September 22nd, the U.S. Air Force Phoenix Raven program graduates its 2,000th operator.
Many DoD representatives believed the Raven program would only last a few months. A few months turned into years. Today, the program has lasted approximately fourteen years and is moving stronger than ever.
Ravens operate in some of the world’s most austere environments. More often than not, they operate without any significant support. They travel abroad in teams of two to six persons, protect critical assets, collect information later to be used for operational planning, and then some.
Training is not nearly as long or physically strenuous as most specialized schoolhouses. A Phoenix Raven is already in physical shape long before attending the 421st schoolhouse. Any Security Forces member can volunteer to become a Raven but just volunteering is not enough–home stations put candidates through their own screening gauntlet. Sometimes it takes future candidates a year or longer just getting home station approval to attend the prestigious schoolhouse.
After graduation and earning the Raven number, these operatives often endure advanced training in Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE). Others have undergone Airborne, Air Assault, sniper/counter-sniper, and different intelligence and counterterrorism training. A select few have even graduated from the prestigious U.S. Army RANGER course.
On the surface, Raven training is quite simple—verbal judo, combatives, advanced firearms, threat surveys, anti-hijacking, etc. What is never revealed is the reality of the mental training fulfilled. Being a Phoenix Raven is all mental. Ravens must be quick thinkers, cognitive analyzers, and mentally tough even when confronted with the most strenuous situation—while battling some of the world’s most harsh conditions.
Graduates receive a very unique lifelong numeric identifier. That number is their “Raven number.” It is a number used for operational planners. For the Raven, it is who they are in the community–their status quo–the lower the number, the more historic the Raven. Colonel Lawrence “Rocky” Lane is the esteemed Raven #1.
This Thursday, current and past Ravens will join together to celebrate one of the programs most historic ground breaking milestones—Noah would be proud. The 2,000th Raven will graduate and soon operate abroad in locations where most American’s have no idea military operations exist. As we should embrace all of our military service members, today, a special salute goes out to the U.S. Air Force Security Force’s Phoenix Raven.
Kerry Patton is the Co-Founder of the National Security Leadership Foundation, a non-profit organization pending 501c (3) status. He has worked in South America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Europe, focusing on intelligence and security interviewing current and former terrorists, including members of the Taliban. He is the author of “Sociocultural Intelligence: The New Discipline of Intelligence Studies” and the children’s book “American Patriotism.” He is also a former Raven Team Member, Leader, and Instructor for the Phoenix Raven Program. You can follow him on Facebook.